What is fiber and how do I incorporate it in my diet? Dietary fiber is a nutrient found in plants that our bodies cannot absorb or digest. Incorporating fresh fruit to your daily diet can help increase your fiber intake. There are several health benefits to consuming fiber each day.
There are two types of fiber that help with maintaining normal bodily functions: soluble and insoluble fiber. Because fiber cannot be broken down and absorbed in the body, it simply makes its way through the digestive tract promoting motility of other materials that need to be excreted. Insoluble fiber in particular helps produce normal bowel movements by bulking the stool to increase weight while also softening it. Bulking the stool decreases watery loose stools and helps with constipation.
Soluble fiber on the other hand helps lower cholesterol and keep blood glucose levels stable. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is what is commonly known as the “bad” cholesterol.
Soluble fiber has water-holding properties and dissolves into a viscous gel-like substance. This gel-like substance helps lower LDL cholesterol by inhibiting LDL absorption through the intestines and into the bloodstream. The formation of the gel-like substance also slows gastric emptying which helps with blood sugar control. Slower gastric emptying translates to slower nutrient absorption in the digestive tract. Therefore, when glucose in consumed in tandem with fiber, the absorption of the glucose will take longer than normal preventing a spike in blood glucose levels. Due to the water-holding properties soluble fiber also results in stomach distention, which makes the body feel full. The delayed gastric emptying then makes the body feel fuller for a longer period of time. This mechanism can aid in weight loss as it can help prevent snacking and cravings.
Adding fruit to your day is an easy way to increase your fiber intake. The recommended daily intake of fiber is 21-38 grams for the average adult. Fiber can be found in all fresh fruits. However, the amount of fiber in each fruit varies. Common fruits with the highest amount of fiber per serving include blackberries, muscadine grapes, pears, kiwis, and figs. It is imperative to note that fiber content in fresh fruit is NOT the same as in fruit juice. Fruit juice loses most of its fiber contents during processing. Some fruit juice may have unnecessary added sugars included during processing. Therefore it is recommended to consume fresh fruit rather than fruit juice in order to increase fiber content and reduce added sugars.
- Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet – Mayo Clinic [Internet]. [cited 2018 Aug 27]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983
- Food Composition Databases Show Nutrients List [Internet]. United States Department of Agriculture. [cited 2018 Aug 27]. Available from: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/nutrients/report/nutrientsfrm?max=25&offset=0&totCount=0&nutrient1=291&nutrient2=&fg=9&subset=1&sort=c&measureby=g
Thank you to dietetic intern Molly Lowery for her contributions to and creation of this post.
Did you see the headlines today? Americans are not consuming enough fiber!… Hmmm, this really isn’t news. We’ve known for years that, as a nation, we don’t consume enough whole grains, fresh fruits, or vegetables. A recent study published in the December issue of The American Journal of Medicine (AMJ), confirms that this lack of fiber is at least partly responsible for an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.
How much fiber do we need?
The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults aged 19-50 years consume 25 grams of fiber per day (women) to 38 grams of fiber day (men). That may sound like a lot, but it’s surprisingly easy to meet the recommendations if you put in a little effort. It will likely require a few simple substitutions, and perhaps a couple of healthy additions.
For instance, instead of eating a highly processed breakfast cereal first thing in the morning, choose one made with whole grains (5 grams of fiber per cup). Instead of eating a sandwich for lunch made with bread from refined flour, choose bread made with whole grains (5 grams of fiber per two slices). Instead of eating refined pasta for dinner, choose whole grain pasta (5 grams of fiber per cup). And don’t forget to enjoy fruits and vegetables throughout the day as snacks –a cup of fresh fruit or vegetables is worth another 5 grams of fiber, as is half a cup of beans.
You can see that, if you focus on WHOLE GRAINS, it’s quite possible to meet the recommendations for daily fiber intake. Unfortunately, according to the recent AMJ study, Americans consume an average of just 16 grams per day! That’s roughly half of the recommendation.
Food for thought
Why do you think that most Americans do not consume enough fiber? How much fiber do you consume on a daily basis? What sorts of substitutions or additions to your diet could you make to consume more fiber?
“Dietary Fiber Intake and Cardiometabolic Risks Among US Adults, NHANES 1999-2010” by Kya N. Grooms, BA; Mark J. Ommerborn, MPH; Do Quyen Pham, MPH; Luc Djousse, MD, ScD, MPH; Cheryl R. Clark, MD, ScD. The American Journal of Medicine, Volume 126, Issue 12, December 2013.